Jeffrey Davis’s favorite belt was his Croakies. It was black with a silver buckle and could be adjusted to any tightness. When he'd bought it years ago at an REI, he had no clue that it would one day save someone's life.Davis has spent more than twenty years as an emergency room physician. Currently, he's the owner and founder of Link Primary Care. In that time, he’s seen a lot of trauma. He describes a hardwired reaction to such situations.
“You don’t turn it off,” he says. “It’s just in your head. When you see a problem, you act like you would in a hospital context.”
On March 26, Davis and his family were vacationing in San Diego. That day, Davis, his wife Tasha and their three daughters were going to whale watching. To stay warm, Davis slipped into a pair of jeans. Through the loops he slid his Croakies belt.
The family saw lots of dolphins. The dolphins were the highlight. There was one whale, though. It looked like a humpback, but it was hard to tell. The water cut everything off below the tail.
On their way back through the harbor, the whale-watching boat came upon a small cruiser. Not 30 seconds prior, it had hit a wave and three of its six riders, all looking to be in their early twenties, had fallen into the water.
“You guys need help?” the captain said.
“Sure,” one of them replied casually.
The captain stopped the boat, its hull bobbing next to the cruiser’s. The three in the water swam back. Two of them reached up and pulled themselves in. The other tried, pushing up towards the boat’s lip, but descended back down, Davis recalls.
“I need help, for real” the stranded man said as if in shock, but keeping it together. The others grabbed his arm and pulled, sliding his shoulders, chest and waist onto the boat until his left leg was in view. It had been nearly cut off at the knee and hung by a patch of skin, flopping uncontrollably, Davis says. The propellor had hit the man's leg when he'd fallen in. He stared as his blood pooled on the deck.
Davis jumped across the water onto their ship. He unclipped his belt and tied off the man’s leg, pulling the makeshift tourniquet until the skin turned white. At a glance, Davis thought survival was unlikely.
In scenarios like this, the doctor explains, when the adrenaline is pumping and every part of your body is focused on one task, one problem, it’s hard to feel time. Ten minutes feels like 20 feels like 30.
The harbor police arrived. Their supplies were lacking, though, and Davis says it was his belt which kept the man from bleeding to death while they skipped over the water. At the dock, an ambulance was waiting. Medics applied two new tourniquets, lifted the man and drove him off, the Croakies belt still around his leg.
The Davis family took the rest of the afternoon off, debriefed. The kids, three in total and all younger than fifteen, were “pretty freaked out,” Davis says. He and his wife explained to them that this is what doctors do, that it’s possible to step in and help people. (One can assume that at least one of these children had just witnessed their medical school application essay.)
Davis made a statement to the San Diego Harbor Police via email. At the hospital, the man ended up losing his leg, but he survived.
Davis has yet to replace his favorite belt. He plans to buy another just like it.
Looking back, he sees nothing but luck. The right person at the right place.
“The timing was just remarkable,” he says.